One of the first men on earth, Abel, was murdered by his brother, Cain. At that time human government had not been instituted on earth, so Cain was not executed for this crime against his brother. God didn't ask Adam to take his own son's life. Instead Cain and his descendants became an object lesson that speaks to this day: "See, this is the fruit of a murderer's life!" He lived on to propagate an entire line of bloodthirsty and worthless men who placed no value on human life. The great-great-grandson of Cain is quoted in Genesis as saying, "I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me."1
Eventually God destroyed the whole human race except for eight people because of the violence that filled the earth from Cain's descendants. The account in Genesis 6:13 says that God told Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them."
The Great Flood was an ecological disaster unparalleled in history. It's purpose was to cleanse the earth of it's violence, to send a message for all of us for all time to heed.
To ensure that murder and violence would not consume the earth again, God instituted human government for the first time. The mandate He gave as the foundation of this government is recorded in Genesis 9:5-6,
For your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.
The accounting which God demands from the one who takes the life of his fellow man is that human government would take his life. This is the law against murder, which has been common to all nations down through history. It was established by God and put deeply into the conscience of man.
If the governments of the nations do not heed this mandate, then once again the earth will be polluted with violence and will have to be destroyed. Is this not happening today? Is not violence filling the earth? Is not doing away with the death penalty the increasing opinion in our society? The amount of violent crime today is in direct correlation to society's violation of this fundamental instruction, regardless of distorted statistics that are manipulated to indicate otherwise.
The nation that does not swiftly punish murder will not execute justice in many other ways. If a society tolerates murder, assaulting the very image of God on earth, it will tolerate anything in increasing degeneration. If anyone would come against Genesis 9:6, the foundation of government in the nations, then that person would come against every other good thing God has established as well.
Since man is the image bearer of God, to take the life of man is to attack God Himself. That is why the way we treat fellow human beings is so critical to our destiny. To purposefully and premeditatedly take the life of God's image bearer is what makes this crime so serious. Such a person's heart and motives are irreversibly set. That is why the only remedy for murder is to take the life of the murderer.
This law has gone deep into the human conscience since the time it was given to Noah. Because this law is in our conscience, we all know instinctively that murder is wrong. It is something that we do not have to be taught. If we were to go back to the original mandate, we would know that a murderer forfeits his right to live. To let him live pollutes the environment and causes it to begin to break down.
To uphold the death penalty for first degree murder is the exercise of good government. It is the way God has given us to keep the earth pure and not polluted. If we want to save the earth then we must stop polluting it by allowing murderers to live. The only way that a person could condone murder or defend a murderer's so called right to remain alive would be to ignore this foundation in the human heart.
The reason for this law is not that God wants to put people to death. On the contrary, He made Man in His own image and wants that image to be preserved. There is a great restraint in every man's conscience against murder. Violating that restraint requires such an intentional choosing of evil over good that it seals the murderer's fate. Once the restraint is violated, how can it be repaired? There is no assurance that the murderer will not murder again. His choice to destroy the image of God has changed him. He is no longer in the image of God, but in the image of the evil one, as John 8:44 says,
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.
When the Bible was written, people understood that murder polluted the earth. Numbers 35:33 says, Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. This pollution is far more devastating than PCB's and nuclear waste, for it pollutes not just the environment, but the very conscience of humanity. And a polluted conscience is precisely the reason that humanity does not properly care for the environment.
The very existence of a death penalty in modern society has been challenged. Despite the antiquity of capital punishment, many religious and social activist groups, as well as many more sincere individuals, are questioning its origin and even its moral basis. The sanctity of human life is the premise for their reasoning; for if human life is sacred, how can a mere human being, or even a human government, take upon itself the right to destroy a human life? As fallible and corrupt as men are, how can they safely be entrusted with the power to put someone to death?
So, to condemn an innocent man to death is unthinkable. But what about letting the guilty go free? Does the evidence that innocent people have been executed nullify the entire institution of capital punishment? Does corruption in law enforcement justify abolishing the police force? If some in government prove to be evil, should evil therefore go ungoverned?
Some who question the idea of a death penalty challenge the right of human government to take human life at all. And if human beings had invented capital punishment on their own initiative, just to satisfy personal bloodthirstiness, the challenge might have some validity. But such is not the case. The death penalty for murder is a universal law in human civilization, as widespread as the story of the ancient flood that destroyed nearly all of mankind. Man did not invent capital punishment. He received the authorization from God.
The law against murder, and all other moral laws as well, is based on the reality that how you treat your fellow Man is how you treat God Himself. One who does not respect and uphold the law against murder also does not respect humanity or God. More than that, those who oppose capital punishment for murder share in the guilt of human blood, no matter how sincerely they may plead that they are only concerned with avoiding further bloodshed. No amount of plastic smiles and smooth words can change the fact that convicted murderers who are not executed, but instead get released on parole, often wind up murdering again.
So which human life is sacred? The life of the murderer? The life of his victim? The life of the victim's widow, who earns her money by hard labor and pays her taxes to support the murderer as he lives out his life sentence in the penitentiary, pumping iron, playing basketball, watching TV, and smoking cigarettes? Who deserves the compassion?
We do not write this in the strength of our own righteousness, but in the confidence that, even though many of us were richly deserving of eternal destruction, we received mercy from the God who is righteous. Yahshua, the Son of God, although blameless and innocent, was condemned as the worst criminal. Though He was executed and put to death, He has been vindicated and made alive. His blood demonstrates the cleansing power of the death penalty. When His blood was spilled on the earth it didn't cry out for vengeance but for mercy and forgiveness because He gave His life as a ransom for many. His death paid for the injustices all men committed and for the death they justly deserved. His blood is powerful to cleanse and take away guilt. His blood is the foundation for the righteous forgiveness of God.